Posted in GR1s, GR21, GRD, tools of the trade, what really matters by hemmant jha on August 25, 2009


As most of you are undoubtedly aware, we prefer film over digital for many reasons, some of which have been presented herehere, and here.

Just the other day, during the photo shoot at the Breuer church [interior, exterior], something happened that adds a bit more fuel to the film / digital debate. Since our cameras of choice are the Ricoh GR21, GR1S and now the GRD, this issue is significant only for compact cameras of the non-removable lens variety. 

thinkmore ricoh GRD 01Aweb

I have used the GR1S for many years in all sorts of environments. It has travelled across many continents, in all seasons, in all means of transportation. It has endured heat, humidity, being jostled [never dropped], being in the passenger seat of cars driven hard. It has been subjected to the indignity of being forcibly X-rayed at airports and being fondled by airport security. The main reason it has travelled with me extensively is its remarkable picture taking ability and its compact profile – when turned off, the lens assembly retracts into the body, making this magnesium bodied machine truly portable. Short of losing portion of the display [which eventually fixed itself] during a period of extreme humidity, this camera has performed flawlessly – a real champ. [1,  2,  3

The GR21 is a bit less portable – less pocketable, actually. The lens assembly does not retract fully and makes it not quite as pocketable as it’s stablemate, but all else is as with the GR1S. Great camera, great performance.

I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the GRD. Certain performance issues aside [purple fringing, slow RAW write times which have since been fixed with the GRD3, noise levels at high ISO settings], this seemed like a worthy digital successor to the GR film series. It feels solid and beautifully put together, offers more manual control than any other compact, is truly pocketable. Here was a digital compact one could live comfortably with, if not love.

Until Thursday, August 13, 2009. Having shot many rolls of BW film that day, I decided to give the GRD a whirl – took some long exposure shots of the interior and many shorter exposure ones of the exterior at St. Francis de Sales Parish Church, Muskegon, MI. At some point while previewing images on the camera, I noticed a dark grey blob in the pictures – always in the same location, regardless of orientation or length of exposure. The images below illustrate the problem [much of the color and the sky tone has been removed in one, the other is untouched]. It seemed not to be a problem with the sensor, since the edges of the blob were smooth and not pixelated, or in any way reminiscent of dead or stuck pixels on LCD displays, for example. The lens seemed clear – waving a finger in front of the lens, I tried to locate the position of any particle that might have attached itself to the lens – nothing there. Could it be something within the lens assembly? Possibly. On the sensor itself, buried within the camera? Possibly.


thinkmore R1023716Aweb

So well put together is the GRD that disassembly is best left to those familiar with this camera. While we feel comfortable disassembling [and reassembling to full working status] any electronic device, this one apparently required the peeling back of glued layers in the grip – not something to be done lightly. Ricoh USA suggests using C.R.I.S. camera services for GR servicing. A quick call confirmed that the costs for repair might range from $190 to $270, depending on extent of damage – the high costs [about half the cost of a new GRD2] thanks to the near complete disassembly required to get to the sensor. 

Stimulated by the stiffness of these charges, one scoured the internet for solutions. Remarkably enough, dust on the sensor is a well known problem with the GRD. It seems to be particularly well documented, in part because of the enthusiasts whom this machine is targeted at. These are people who understand photography, people who like good cameras and good stuff and are willing to pay for it, and are willing to live with the accompanying quirks and shortcomings. Dust on sensor, particularly if due to inadequately designed / manufactured lens assembly with none-too-tight tolerances, is not something one ought to have to live with. If the problem is well known and there are enough cases to show a pattern of occurrence, it is something that should be addressed by the manufacturer, free of charge. Additionally, for a company that has earned its [well-deserved] reputation with good tools for photography, a design / manufacturing oversight out to be addressed as quickly and as reasonably as possible.

A letter outlining the problem was composed and sent off to Ricoh, Japan. After all, who better to evaluate the situation than the head office of the organization – the picture below is of their corporate presence in the Ginza area, Tokyo [quite close to this coffee shop – all pictures taken with the GRD]. Sure enough, I did hear back through their US division, asking to take a look at the machine and to see what needed to be done. It is on its way to Ricoh USA.

thinkmore R1023561web

What this event illustrates is the primary difference between the film and digital versions of the GR cameras, and any other compact film camera compared to their digital variants. In any film camera, the sensor is easily replaced – in fact, it is replaced with every shot. Should there be any issue with the sensor / film, it can simply be discarded and the camera put right back in use. Should dust get into the system, the machine can be probed quite easily since it is designed to be user accessible and moderately user serviceable. Not so with digital compacts – they’re designed to be sealed and user-proof.

We’re not sure if separating the user [to this degree] from the process of image making is a good thing. Not one out of a thousand readers of this blog knows how a digital camera really works or why digital photography has issues that are not readily addressable by the user. This separation from the process of photography undoubtedly changes the nature of photography itself – when one simply does not know why things work the way they do, how they function internally or what makes them tick, one is not likely to feel empathy for the object – there’s less of a bond, less caring. The object becomes disposable and is treated as such – which is great for business, less so for us. 

The pace of change of technology [and its forms, variants, products] has never been more rapid than it is today [Future Shock, Alvin Toffler]. Clearly, no one person can possibly be expected to have much in-depth understanding of a lot of what is new, technologically speaking. Yet, much of our modern lifestyle is driven by or formed by modern technology and its artifacts. It used to be that the more we knew, the better off we’d be – does this hold true anymore? Could it possibly hold true anymore – one cannot say. With every passing day, there is a greater divide between us and the objects that we use to facilitate our increasingly complex lives, to generate new experiences, to archive our thoughts and ideas, to freeze moments in time.

Proposing solutions that bridge this chasm is beyond the scope of this post, but we will revisit the topic on this blog.

In the interim, we await word from Ricoh.


5 Responses

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  1. Claydo NYC said, on August 25, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    I just sent my GRD 2 off to CRIS to be fixed because of sensor dust. I wrecked my GRD original trying to open it up myself after deciding it wasn’t worth sending to CRIS. I’ve just acquired a GRD 3 and if it gets dust on the sensor just outside of warranty like the last two I may go postal!

    Good article.

  2. hemmant jha said, on August 25, 2009 at 4:10 pm


    You obviously have a lot more patience for this than I do – to have a GRD and GRD2 both succumb to the same issue is pretty crazy.

    Good luck with the GRD3. I’ve only read very good things in the initial reviews – enjoy!

  3. 125 « thinkmore said, on September 4, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    […] transitioned from film to digital, and back to film following a minor skirmish with dust, this seems like an appropriate moment to showcase another BW film. Relatively inexpensive at about […]

  4. 131 « thinkmore said, on September 29, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    […] a previous article, we touched upon this phenomenon : the great divide which has occured between us and the devices we […]

  5. Vobluda said, on July 23, 2010 at 3:10 am

    I know that this thread is a bit old but I use to have dust on my GRD II sensor visible at f8 and higher. As the repair is more expensive than the camera I solve it with vacuum cleaner: took out the battery and the card and vacuumed the batter/card compartment. And voila the dust is gone and camera works as it should.
    DIY on your own risk!

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